Ryles savours calm after Storm in Coal League


They've been through plenty of preseasons in their distinguished NRL careers, but for new Illawarra Coal League captain-coaches Jason Ryles and Nathan Fien the learning curve before the 2014 season has been steep.

Not since Kiwi international Oscar Danielson led Corrimal to a defeat of Cliff Watson's Wollongong in the 1974 grand final have two internationals been at the helm of Illawarra sides.

Between them they boast 524 NRL games, 35 tests and nine Origins but both said that the dramatic switch from full-time professionalism to the two sessions-a-week of the Coal League had posed its challenges.

Ryles finished his 270-game NRL career last year under Craig Bellamy at the Melbourne Storm, a club renowned for its professionalism and discipline.

He said that, like Bellamy, he's tried to keep it simple.

"It's only two days a week and that's been a bit different for me ... going from six or seven days a week to just two, but I've enjoyed it," Ryles said.

"You just try not to overload all the boys with all the information at once, keep it really simple and make sure we're doing all the little things well.

"You just try and drip feed them and they've responded really well.

"There's a lot to improve on but there's some real encouraging signs there as well.

"There's no walk-ups [in the competition] now, that's for sure, and where I've come from, there was no such thing as a walk-up so that'll be no different for me."

Fien also drew the curtain on a 276-game NRL career last year and, with a young family settled in Thirroul, decided to forgo opportunities overseas to take the top job at the Butchers.

He learnt plenty of tricks under Wayne Bennett, Graham Murray, Stephen Kearney and Tim Sheens but, like Ryles, he hasn't overburdened his players.

"You take your little bits and pieces from all those guys," Fien said.

"When you've got guys that are throwing sledgehammers around all day, to then load them up with every bit of information I've had ingrained in me over 14 years in one preseason ... it's a bit of a fine line and a balancing act.

"You've got to take into account that the boys are there for a good time but when it is time to learn stuff, you've got to switch them on.

"We had a plan about what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted our footy side to look like and for the most part we're ticking all those boxes at the moment," Fien said.

"But it's a results-oriented business and the real test will be on the footy field come April 6 when we run out against the premiers [Collegians]."

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